How Is Palmer Reacting to the Vape Epidemic?
Updated: Mar 13, 2019
By: Andy Shodell
PTS Falconer Staff
November 21, 2018
An email was sent to the guardians of every Palmer Trinity student on November 6th labeled “Message from the Head of School.” These types of messages have, of course, been sent before -- but this specific message should be treated very differently than the others on account of its sensitive material, relevant to every student regardless of their background, family, or group of friends. The email talks in depth about Palmer’s coming response to a series of problems in high schools with illicit substances. Specifically, this message from the heads of school is about how Palmer will crack down on students who have come into contact with the e-cigarette that has captured the market, known as the JUUL.
For those who do not know about JUULs, the school’s message describes them as the following: “The ‘JUUL’ resembles a USB flash drive. Unfortunately, these devices are used not only for nicotine products but also for marijuana and other drugs. The ‘JUUL’ itself is easy to conceal and emits a vape that is often odorless and disappears quickly.” It is also important to acknowledge that the JUUL implements pods containing nicotine salts existent in leaf based tobacco, and that the company -- JUUL Labs -- does not produce any controlled substances other than the nicotine pods, as it would be illegal to sell marijuana in most states -- not to mention other schedule I drugs that truly have “no currently accepted medical use,” as stated by the Controlled Substances Act.
The school’s message goes on to say “Palmer Trinity will implement random searches in the coming weeks,” and “The School also reserves the right to require random and/or regularly scheduled drug and/or alcohol testing at a school approved local clinic or doctor’s office,” citing pages 34-36 and 39 of the handbook as justification. Being found with a JUUL will result in “suspension or expulsion.”
The ideals of an institution whose responsibility it is to educate and protect students are brought into question after such messages are sent behind the backs of the student body. Is the goal to catch and punish students in possession of illicit substances or prevent students from owning these devices and bringing them to school in the first place? Which goal is easier to accomplish, and which ultimately helps who? Which pleases who? A direct email from an academic institution to their student body warning about the consequences of possession of an illicit substance would have a clear goal: to prevent students from attending school with e-cigarettes and other devices -- and to display the school’s knowledge of this growingly popular activity among youth. That’s a strong warning and message of prevention and safety. But, for unknown reasons, the virtual opposite tactic is utilized by the Palmer administration; contacting parents and guardians instead of the students, whose lives are affected by this, optimizes the goal of catching and punishing students -- not helping them by fostering, as the message from the heads of school described it, “an environment that is safe … and conducive to learning.” By choosing to not contact students about this issue which was deemed important enough to condone an email to every Palmer parent and guardian, the goals of Palmer’s coming drug tests are made quite clear.
When first hearing this information about the school, one may ask themselves, “Can they really do that?” and the answer -- as in most private institutions -- is yes. It is 100% in the scope of most private schools to conduct searches and tests in the way the email describes. The real question, however, is should they? Answers differ. Illegal substances should stay off of academic campuses -- period. But discovering the best way to do that while maintaining the environment that any sane academic institution should have -- the same one idealized in the school’s message -- is more difficult than immediately bringing down the gavel and declaring that everyone is subject to random, imminent, looming searches and tests both on- and off-campus, to result in suspensions and expulsions depending on what’s unveiled.
Whether to classify this as choosing what’s easy -- and not what’s right -- is debatable.
Is this complete and utter crackdown on students worth delaying class times -- when students should be learning -- in order to conduct school wide drug tests, and create a prison-like environment that hampers students’ ability to learn without feeling distracted or watched? Thinking about ‘safety’ as a sole goal would not get anyone very far: of course a place surrounded by 10 foot tall iron walls, a single heavily monitored entrance and exit, security cameras in every hallway and classroom, guards stationed outside every building, and automatic locks on every door would be more ‘safe’ than our current campus. If ‘safety’ itself is the ideal, then why spend so many resources and millions of dollars on expanding into the Hester Property if our current campus is not as ‘safe’ as it can possibly be? The reason is because excessive safety measures can impede on freedom, education, and value. Students cannot learn, grow and expand if they are kept on a leash. The fact that Palmer chooses to expand over spending funds on increasing safety measures in the already-existing buildings goes to show the truth of this principle, which would also place these planned school searches on the wrong side of that line. It’s too excessive, and the goal is clearly not to help students’ health and habits, but rather to virtually create a route to purge ‘imperfect’ students. Safety is about keeping dangerous things out, not mistrusting and mistreating the people within the community -- especially if the vehicle to remain ‘safe’ would place restrictions on the whole community and change the sense of independence felt in that community itself. The student body should have been told honestly about the school’s coming plans -- there are only downsides when going behind the students' backs with such an important topic of the modern day. This generation will be the future of people to take the reins of the Earth; every school’s response to anything that can hurt or harm this formative group should be thought through very carefully. The process is one of trying different methods to simultaneously optimize a lack of harmful substances (safety) and maximize civil liberties of students (which are vital to independence and maturity beyond imaginable). It is okay for a school to oscillate above and below the line of acceptable behavior that is required to reconcile safety with the most valuable living of life itself. It is okay to try contacting the parents in addition to the students, and it is okay to try the safety measures that the school has recently implemented such as an officer present on campus, and infrequent drug searches. To immediately jump to the level of the increased safety measures detailed in Palmer’s email while going behind the backs of students, however, is not okay in the slightest. The mere legal and contractual authority to conduct something does not make it civil, ethical, or honest. As students in various school environments see trends moving away from the ideal and past the line of what is acceptable to do to a kid, students must continue to protect civil liberties and live in a way that has true value.